by Brian Phillips
We regularly hear about the corrupting influence of money on the political process. Politicians of both parties eagerly endorse, and pass, campaign finance “reform” to limit donations, and then are equally eager to find ways to skirt the law to finance their next election. But this doesn’t stop statists of every variety for calling for more “reforms.”
As an example, The Houston Chronicle, in response to the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, editorialized:
With this action, the court has effectively undermined the influence of individuals and parties on electoral outcomes, while vastly increasing the clout of business behemoths and their lobbyist representatives to influence and intimidate legislators to support their agendas. If the lawmaker doesn’t play ball, he or she can be threatened with an unregulated financial blitz come election time.
This is a classic case of dropping context. The Chronicle conveniently ignores numerous facts as it puts forth another call for more government regulation.
Contrary to the paper’s implication, “business behemoths” are nothing more than a collection of individuals. Individuals do not lose their rights when they join together to pursue a common goal. They retain their right to act according to their own judgment without interference from others, so long as they respect the mutual rights of others. This includes donating to political candidates.
The paper fears that this will lead to undue corporate influence over elections, that businesses and their lobbyists will exert pressure on politicians to support legislation and policies favorable to those businesses. This is likely true, but it too drops context.
The paper refuses to question the premise that underlies lobbying. It fails to question a political process that allows–and even encourages–pressure group politics. Instead, the paper argues that some groups–businesses–should not have an “unfair” advantage.
Lobbyists are not a creation of the free market, but of a mixed economy–an economy with a mixture of freedoms and controls. When government has the power to regulate economic activity, individuals will seek to influence that power. When government has the power to arbitrarily dictate the actions of individuals, individuals will seek legislation that is favorable to them.
The logical result is pressure group politics, in which individuals band together to exert influence on legislators. Whether the group is a union, a business, or a special interest, it will claim that the “common good” or “public interest” requires legislation that provides it with special benefits at the expense of those who are not a member of that group. This is true whether the legislation prescribes or proscribes, whether the legislation confers tax benefits, or creates entitlement programs, or attempts to stimulate some industry.
When faced with the alternative of legislation that is beneficial or harmful to their interests, most individuals would prefer legislation that is beneficial. It is morally proper to pursue one’s interests, so long as one respects the mutual rights of others to do the same.
Pressure group politics makes this virtually impossible. One never knows when some government edict will dictate or prohibit certain actions. One never knows when his plans and interests will be sacrificed to the “general welfare”. The motto of pressure group politics is: Eat or be eaten; sacrifice oneself, or sacrifice others.
The Chronicle does not question the need for sacrifice. It only wants to quibble over the victims. Despite what the Chronicle believes, the real issue is not who should influence politicians, but the purpose of government.
Government’s only legitimate purpose is the protection of individual rights–the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. When government is restricted to this purpose, the motivation to influence politicians does not exist. When government can no longer dispense political favors, lobbyists will disappear.